Pelican Lake Complex


Pelican Lake sites are distributed in the same regions as Oxbow and McKean including a small representation in northern Manitoba and the Boreal Forest. They are found mainly in the northern prairies and indicate large and mobile populations. Reeves (1969 in Reeves 1970:162) characterized the Pelican Lake site distributions as follows:

Winter camps in sheltered valleys adjacent to water and firewood. The bison drives were probably undertaken twice a year: in the spring when the bulls were prime and in the fall when the cows were prime. The latter was the major drive. Summer camps seem to have been on the prairie level .

Pelican Lake origins are not well known. Differences in burial techniques, the re-use of bison jumps and the lack of representation in the use of medicine wheels suggest that Pelican Lake culture represents an immigration of people. The Hanna points, represented in the terminal McKean phases, may have given rise to the distinctive Pelican Lake points which are marked by corner notches and barbed shoulders (Manitoba 1984:74).

Technology and Subsistence


The distinctive triangular corner-notched projectile points are characteristic of the Pelican Lake culture. The shoulders of the points are barbed or acute with convex or straight edges, and the bases are usually ground. The atlatl was used with this projectile point. Knife River Flint from western North Dakota was the preferred raw material. The Pelican Lake people were familiar with communal bison kills. Their reuse of the Head-Smashed-In-Buffalo jump after a thousand year hiatus indicates their ability to effectively dispatch hundreds of bison in a single event. Evidence for the use of traps, pounds and jumps are found in Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Manitoba. At the Larter site, on the Red River in Manitoba, large quantities of bison bone suggest that a nearby bison pound was used (Reeves 1970:161). Other resources were used as well. Faunal remains, including white tailed deer, grizzly bear, muskrat, birds, fish, and molluscs were recovered at Larter (Reeves 1970).

Exchange system

Knife River Flint was the most popular stone material used to fashion points. The closest source of this material is western North Dakota. Other Pelican lake sites in Alberta contained West Coast dentalium shells indicating much more widespread trading contacts.(Bryan 1991:100).

Religion and Belief

The Pelican Lake burials were considerably different than the Oxbow forms and suggest cultural distinctiveness. They consist of rock-covered, shallow pit graves located on hilltops (Walker 1982). Imported grave goods were included and red ochre was liberally scattered throughout the burial.

Continue: Shield Archaic

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